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  • Toni Pakula

Nutrients and ADHD.


The Link between Nutrition and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD): Improving Gut Health and ADHD through reducing ultra-processed foods and using micronutrient supplementation.


Key Points:

  • Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is a neurodevelopmental disorder affecting both children and adults, characterized by inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity impairing daily functioning. 1-3

  • Diagnosis requires symptoms present for over 6 months, with three classification types: Inattentive, Hyperactive-Impulsive, and Combined. 1-3

  • Approximately 1 in 20 individuals struggle with ADHD. 1

  • The exact cause of ADHD is a blend of genetic, neurological, and environmental factors. 1-4

  • Untreated ADHD can be debilitating, with treatment options including medications, Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), ADHD coaching, individualized educational plans (IEP), and classroom interventions. Supporting parents and teachers is crucial. 1-3

  • ADHD often coexists with other conditions like dyslexia, dyscalculia, anxiety, and depression. 1-3

  • Individuals with ADHD may experience sensory processing issues, food sensitivities, and difficulties with feeling hungry and thirsty. 5-8

  • Gut health, omega-3, nootropics like ‘Lions Mane’, and micronutrients such as ‘Daily Essential Nutrients’ can help reduce ADHD symptoms. 4,7,9-12

  • Exercise is also showing to be beneficial for ADHD by regulating stress hormones such as cortisol and neurotransmitter production such as Dopamine and Serotonin. 1,7,8,13,14


Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is a mental health condition as categorised by the American Psychiatric Associations Diagnostic Statistical Manual (DSM-5). 1-3  Various factors contribute to the development and maintenance of ADHD. The standard treatment for ADHD is behavioural therapy, and medication.2,3 However, emerging research suggests that dietary factors, specifically a nutrient-deficient diet and high consumption of ultra-processed foods, may play a significant role in the severity and maintenance of ADHD. 7-9,13-15 This research article discusses the link between a nutrient-deficient diet and ADHD and investigates how reducing ultra-processed foods and incorporating adequate micronutrients can improve both gut health and ADHD symptoms. The discussion emphasizes the importance of a healthy diet in the management of ADHD, highlighting potential pathways involved and providing recommendations for future research.


ADHD is a prevalent mental health condition characterized by inattention and impulsivity. Although genetic and environmental factors contribute to the development of ADHD, emerging evidence suggests that dietary patterns may also have a substantial impact on mental health outcomes. 4,6-12.15.16

Throughout the years there has been a growing body of research linking nutrition to mental health conditions. Current research illustrates that the food we consume plays a significant role in our emotional well-being and cognitive function. 4,9,11  While mental health disorders like ADHD are multifaceted, an emerging body of evidence indicates that a high consumption of ultra-processed foods and low consumption of fresh fruit and vegetables can enhance ADHD symptoms. 7,8,13,15-18


The gut microbiome, is composed of trillions of bacteria, and it plays a crucial role in the bidirectional communication between the gut and the brain. Emerging research suggests that imbalances in the gut microbiome, known as dysbiosis, is associated with mental health disorders such as ADHD. 8,15,19 Ultra-processed foods can imbalance the gut microbiota causing inflammation in the gut, also known as “leaky gut syndrome” and this can lead to poor absorption of key vitamins and minerals from the diet. 4,7,8,15-17,20

Popper, Bonnie and Rucklidge explain how it is often taken for granted that the general population in well-developed countries are consuming adequate amounts of nutrients and micronutrients from their daily diet. 4,9 However, research is showing us this is simply not the case. There are many factors which contribute to nutritional deficiencies for example; intensive farm practices and the use of glyphosates “which bind to micronutrients reducing their bioavailability” and “food industry practices.” 4,9,19  People are relying more and more heavily on convenience foods and take-aways for ease of preparation and affordability.  These foods are rich in additives and preservatives and low in nutrients. 4,9,16,17,20  Modern day farming practices and an increase in ultra-processed foods reduce the in-take of micronutrients, upset the gut microbiota and cause inflammation. 4,9


Research shows there are specific nutrients which are useful to help alleviate ADHD symptoms, such as Omega-3 fatty acids, B vitamins, Folate, Antioxidants, Vitamin C and E,  Zinc, Iron and Magnesium, alongside pre and probiotics. 4,7,9-12,15 Research is also revealing the crucial role that daily activity and exercise play in supporting those with ADHD. In their literature review, Fotoglou, Moraiti, Diamantis, Stergios, Gavriilidou and Drigas discuss how a nutritious diet and daily activity regime can be a “game changer” for individuals struggling with ADHD. 7  Fotoglou et al  (2022) discuss how children with ADHD have lower levels of DHA Omega 3 compared to those without the condition, underscoring the pivotal role of Omega 3 in their diet. 7

They also stress the importance for women to take adequate levels of Omega-3 during prenatal and post-natal pregnancy, especially in the “third trimester and up to the first six months of life” for neurodevelopment. 7 Omega 3 can be  found in fatty fish, walnuts, and flaxseeds, and are crucial for supporting cognitive growth, linguistic skills, emotional regulation and proprioception and motor skills.4,7,9These fats help build brain cell membranes and promote the production of neurotransmitters, such as serotonin, which is involved in mood regulation. 4,7,9  Other critical nutrients are zinc, iron and magnesium. These nutrients play a crucial role in the synthesis of dopamine, serotonin and melatonin. 4,7-10  Zinc, iron and magnesium help reduce impulsivity and increase focus and attention, research shows they play a role in the dopaminergic system. 4,7-9  Studies have shown that children who have been diagnosed with ADHD tend to have lower zinc and ferritin levels than the general population. 4,7,8  Therefore increasing these minerals in the diet is going to be beneficial. Foods which are high in Zinc, Magnesium and Iron include shellfish, oily fish such as tuna, salmon, sardines, meat, leafy greens, cereals and nuts. 4,5,7


Numerous studies have examined the connection between nutrition and its impact on ADHD symptoms, with a particular focus on specific diets. The Mediterranean diet, characterized by its rich blend of fruits, vegetables, legumes, grains, proteins, fish, and olive oil, has shown noteworthy health benefits, contributing to increased life expectancy and positively influencing mood, focus, and attention. 4,7-12,15,19  Additionally, diets that eliminate certain items, such as ultra-processed foods, artificial additives, colourings, and preservatives (e.g., the 'Feingold diet'), have demonstrated promise in reducing ADHD symptoms. 4,5,7,9  Notably, when these dietary approaches are combined with a well-balanced micronutrient regimen, like Hardy Nutritional's daily essential nutrient, and supplemented with omega-3 fatty acids, longitudinal studies consistently reveal a reduction in ADHD symptoms.4,7-12,15


While medications can play a vital role and have significantly benefited many individuals dealing with ADHD, they come with their fair share of side effects.21 These side effects often tip the scale, outweighing the advantages of the medication and leading individuals with ADHD to refrain from using them.21 Furthermore, there's a notable absence of long-term studies examining the effects of these medications on children, leaving us uncertain about the potential lasting impact on a developing brain.21  ADHD medications can be highly effective in helping children focus and sit still in school, but it's not uncommon for parents to notice significant changes in their child's personality.21 Over the years, research has revealed compelling evidence of neuroplasticity, demonstrating the remarkable ability of the nervous system to adapt neuronal pathways, promote growth, and even facilitate neuron repair.8,9,22,23 Additionally, the emerging field of epigenetics has shown that genes can be activated or deactivated in specific circumstances.8,9,22,23 This process is closely linked to our microbiome, a highly complex system influenced by both external and internal factors, which can affect gene expression and neurotransmission.8,9,22,23


Increasingly, there is growing recognition of the benefits of maintaining a healthy gut, incorporating essential micronutrients into one's diet, and engaging in regular physical activity as a safe and side-effect-free approach to supporting mental well-being and alleviating ADHD symptoms. 4,5,7-9,12,22,23


In conclusion, the expanding body of research on nutrition and physical activity consistently demonstrates their positive impact on various mental health issues. These findings demonstrate the compelling benefits of a well-rounded diet and exercise routine, along with a reduction in ultra-processed foods, leading to improved cognitive function, enhanced focus, better emotional regulation, and overall well-being. The field of nutrition and psychology is rapidly evolving, marked by increasing research and compelling evidence. While more studies are necessary to establish precise guidelines for specific micronutrients and personalized dosages, the connection between gut health, nutrients, and mental well-being is becoming increasingly evident. Embracing a nutrient-rich diet like the Mediterranean diet while reducing reliance on ultra-processed foods represents a valuable, holistic approach to supporting mental health conditions such as ADHD.





1.              ADHD New Zealand [Internet]. 2023 [cited 2023 Jul 15]. Available from: more-common-than-you-think.html


2.              Kring MA, Johnson LS, Davison CG, Neale MJ. Abnormal Psychology, The Science and Treatment of Psychological Disorders. Thirteenth Edition. United Kingdom: Wiley and Sons; 2017.


3.              Pelling N, Burton L. Abnormal Psychology in Context. Pelling N, Burton L, editors. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press; 2017.


4.              Kaplan JB, Rucklidge JJ. The Better Brain. New York: HarperCollins Publishers; 2022.




6.              Leventakou V, Herle M, Kampouri M, Margetaki K, Vafeiadi M, Kogevinas M, et al. The longitudinal association of eating behaviour and ADHD symptoms in school age children: a follow-up study in the RHEA cohort. Eur Child Adolesc Psychiatry. 2022 Mar 1;31(3):511–7.


7.              Fotoglou A, Moraiti I, Diamantis A, Stergios V, Gavriilidou Z, Drigas A. Nutritious Diet, Physical Activity and Mobiles. The Game Changers of ADHD [Internet]. Available from:


8.              Mathee K, Cickovski T, Deoraj A, Stollstorff M, Narasimhan G. The gut microbiome and neuropsychiatric disorders: Implications for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Vol. 69, Journal of Medical Microbiology. Microbiology Society; 2020. p. 14–24.


9.              Popper C, Kaplan JB, Rucklidge JJ. Single and Broad-Spectrum Micronutrient Treatment in Psychiatric Practice. In: Gerbarg LP, Muskin RP, Brown PR, editors. Complementary and Integrative Treatments in Psychiatric Practice. New York: American Psychiatric Association; 2018. p. 75–101.


10.            Rucklidge JJ, Frampton MC, Gorman B, Boggis A. Vitamin-Mineral Treatment of ADHD in Adults: A 1-Year Naturalistic Follow-Up of a Randomised Controlled Trial. J Atten Disord. 2014 May 13;1–11.


11.            Rucklidge JJ, Eggleston FJM, Johnstone MJ, Darling K, Frampton MC. Vitamin-mineral treatment improves aggression and emotional regulation in children wtih ADHD: a fully blinded, randomised, placebo-controlled trial. J Child Psychology Psychiatry. 2018 Mar;59(3):232–46.


12.            Stevens JA, Purcell VR, Darling AK, Eggleston FJM, Kennedy AM, Rucklidge JJ. Human gut microbiome changes during a 10-week Randomised Control Trial for micronutrient supplementation in children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Sci Rep. 2019 Jul 12; 9:1–12.


13.             Sun W, Yu M, Zhou X. Effects of physical exercise on attention deficit and other major symptoms in children with ADHD: A meta-analysis. Vol. 311, Psychiatry Research. Elsevier Ireland Ltd; 2022.


14.             Grassmann V, Alves MV, Santos-Galduróz RF, Galduróz JCF. Possible Cognitive Benefits of Acute

 Physical Exercise in Children With ADHD: A Systematic Review. J Atten Disord. 2017 Mar 1;21(5):367–71.


15.            Checa-Ros A, Jeréz-Calero A, Molina-Carballo A, Campoy C, Muñoz-Hoyos A. Current evidence on the role of the gut microbiome in ADHD pathophysiology and therapeutic implications. Vol. 13, Nutrients. MDPI AG; 2021. p. 1–32.


16.            Reales-Moreno M, Tonini P, Escorihuela RM, Solanas M, Fernández-Barrés S, Romaguera D, et al. Ultra-Processed Foods and Drinks Consumption Is Associated with Psychosocial Functioning in Adolescents. Nutrients. 2022 Nov 1;14(22).


17.            Tristan Asensi M, Napoletano A, Sofi F, Dinu M. Low-Grade Inflammation and Ultra-Processed Foods Consumption: A Review. Vol. 15, Nutrients. MDPI; 2023.


18.            Shi Z. Gut microbiota: An important link between western diet and chronic diseases. Vol. 11, Nutrients. MDPI AG; 2019.


19.            González Olmo BM, Butler MJ, Barrientos RM. Evolution of the human diet and its impact on gut microbiota, immune responses, and brain health. Vol. 13, Nutrients. MDPI AG; 2021. p. 1–16.


20.            Via E, Contreras-Rodríguez O. Binge-Eating Precursors in Children and Adolescents: Neurodevelopment, and the Potential Contribution of Ultra-Processed Foods. Nutrients. 2023 Jun 30;15(13):2994.


21.            Graham J, Banaschewski T, Buitelaar J, Coghill D, Danckaerts M, Dittmann RW, et al. European guidelines on managing adverse effects of medication for ADHD. European Child Adolescent Psychiatry. 2011 Jan;20(1):17–37.


22.            Abdulghani A, Poghosyan M, Mehren A, Philipsen A, Anderzhanova E. Neuroplasticity to autophagy cross-talk in a therapeutic effect of physical exercises and irisin in ADHD. Vol. 15, Frontiers in Molecular Neuroscience. Frontiers Media S.A.; 2023.


23.            Granero R. Role of Nutrition and Diet on Healthy Mental State. Vol. 14, Nutrients. MDPI; 2022.

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